by David Goldstein

With supply chain problems causing shortages, pandemic-related fears of holiday shopping crowds, and porch pirates stealing online deliveries, this may be a frustrating year for seasonal gift giving. Nevertheless, Americans will likely continue a long tradition of increasing trash generation by 25% during the holiday season, generating “over one million tons of extra trash per week” from Thanksgiving to the end of the year, according to Waste Advantage Magazine. 

Wrapping paper is one of the seasonal waste items on the “naughty list.” Although not heavy or resource intensive compared to other discards, it is voluminous and ubiquitous. Distinguishing recyclable wrapping paper from non-recyclable wrapping paper is difficult. Generally, shiny paper, whether metallic or laminated with a clear plastic coating, is not recyclable. Similarly, gift wrap contaminated with glitter, adhesive bows, or mixed with ribbons should be carefully kept out of recycling carts; these items can cause processing problems at sorting centers.

In some cases, uncoated gift wrap may be recyclable. One way to identify paper on the “good list” is to crumple it into a ball. “If it stays bunched up, it is more than likely recyclable,” according to an article on the Earth911 website. However, markets for the low grades of paper are unreliable, and even theoretically recyclable wrapping paper may become contaminated in mixed recycling carts or bins. 

Saving wrapping paper, or other paper, and trying to bring it to a recycling center is also not a solution in Ventura County. The days of Boy Scout paper drive fundraisers are long gone. Now, due mainly to changes in export markets, local recycling centers no longer accept paper, and the three major local sorting centers charge to accept paper.

The best environmental strategy is to avoid use of wrapping paper. At konmari.com, the official website of lifestyle guru Marie Kondo, a tab on the Japanese art of “furoshiki” presents a trendy alternative to wrapping paper. Furoshiki involves several methods for attractively wrapping items in reusable cloth. Although many people might balk at paying the $55 charged on Kondo’s website for a square of beige cloth with silkscreened black dots, simpler textiles are easily available, and the methods for folding textiles into reusable wrapping are brilliant.

Kondo’s website advises, “When using furoshiki to wrap your gift, the first step is to still your mind. As you fold and tie the fabric, focus on the person for whom the gift is intended, the gift itself and the furoshiki. You may find yourself naturally slipping into a meditative state.”

Instead, most Americans might just want to start with a YouTube “how-to” video. YouTube offers videos under search headings “how to make,” “how to wrap,” and “how to use” furoshiki. 

Reusable gift bags are a more conventional alternative to wrapping paper, but for some strange reason, people seem to feel a need to stuff gift bags with tissue paper. The tissue paper is not recyclable, negating the environmental advantage of avoiding wrapping paper.

Wrapping a gift in newspaper or colorful magazine pages is another alternative. Although tape is a contaminant, a few pieces does not make the paper unrecyclable. However, paper discarded amidst the tumult of a gift exchange may be less likely to end up in a recycling cart.

The best option to reduce gift-giving waste is to give experiences, rather than things. Museum membership is a great gift, and Ventura County is blessed with many museums. The biggest are the Museum of Ventura County in Ventura, and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley. Membership in the Ventura County Museum also provides membership to the Agriculture Museum, in Santa Paula, and the Albinger Archeological Museum in Ventura. Another local museum to consider is the Ojai Valley Museum.

Other no-wrap gifts include theater tickets, spa days, pedicures, and gift certificates. One creative type of gift certificate is for completion of an errand, like “I will get your car washed next time you need it.” 

This holiday season, don’t be the Grinch who stole landfill space. Consider alternatives for waste reduction.


Ventura County Public Works Environmental Analyst David Goldstein can be reached at david.goldtein@ventura.org or 805-658-4312.